JOHN GODOLPHIN BENNETT (1897-1974)
John Bennett was trained as an officer in the British Army, and after the end of World War 1, became a military intelligence specialist in the Near East and a gifted linguist. Following his intelligence career, he spent several years living and working in Turkey and Greece and later he became a leader in industrial research in Britain. Throughout his life he came in contact with a wide variety of spiritual teachers, though he acknowledged that G.I. GURDJIEFF was the greatest influence on his life and his greatest teacher. Eventually Bennett himself became a spiritual guide.
In the introduction to his four-volume book, The Dramatic Universe, Bennett referred to “crumbs from the ideas table of Gurdjieff that have nurtured my thinking”. One of these crumbs was the teaching of the “Intelligent guidance of history”. This is the teaching that the evolution of this planet, even before the emergence of life in any form, has been guided by intelligent forces that have intervened at critical points enabling developmental steps to be made. Since the time when mankind appeared and acquired the ability to form abstract thoughts and to express complex meaning linguistically, man has had the possibility of communicating directly with higher intelligence. Bennett designated these intelligences by the term “demiurge” to indicate a level of being superior to man in consciousness and creativity, and with the ability to see and act on the scale of centuries and millennia rather than years or lifetimes.
Gurdjieff taught that many thousands of years ago, a group of advanced men and women saw in themselves the tendency to distort reality in their perceptions, and decided to work together to overcome this tendency in themselves and to communicate to others the ability to do so. This was the beginning of the secret teaching, but it was secret not in the sense of concealment, but in the sense of being incomprehensible and therefore effectively invisible to people limited by ordinary modes of perception. Those who succeeded in their self-transformation were and are able to perceive and communicate directly with the “demiurgic” intelligences.
At certain times in human history, great efforts have been made to make these teachings available and widespread, with the result that humanity has been temporarily able to overcome its own destructive tendencies, and to make progress.
Bennett believed that Gurdjieff had introduced such ideas into the modern world specifically because he saw a pressing need for an evolutionary step to be made in human behavior, and had set himself to initiate such a movement. The secret teaching must again be activated for the sake of the immediate future of the world.
What form would such an evolutionary step take? It is unlikely that the human race will make any significant wholesale movement in acquiring new physical powers, or by becoming much more intelligent as a race. Nor is it likely that the tendency towards grasping and self-centeredness will alter spontaneously in the direction of increased selflessness.
The key to future human evolution, as Gurdjieff and Bennett saw it, was that human destiny can be fulfilled only by the determined action of individuals guided by the impulse of conscience. But this determined action will be carried out only by those who have already seen the need for it, and also have recognized their inability to do anything in their present state. The ability to work and grow is only possible for those who have first seen that they do not and cannot do anything effective without effort and sacrifice.
In the 1920s and ’30s, Bennett studied intensively with Gurdjieff’s best-known pupil, P.D. OUSPENSKY, and set himself to understand Gurdjieff’s cosmological system. This took, as its underlying principle, the ‘Principle of Reciprocal Maintenance’, by which every form of existence is maintained by lower levels of existence and in turn maintains higher levels. The task of humanity is to understand our part in the Reciprocal Maintenance and to fulfill it conscientiously.
Following Bennett’s renewed connection with Gurdjieff in 1948, he was able to assimilate Gurdjieff’s own formulation of the principle as described in the chapter “Purgatory” in his book Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. Here Gurdjieff introduces a picture of a universe that is not in perfect balance, and that requires constant maintenance in order to continue. In The Dramatic Universe, Bennett presents the notion of universal Hazard, that all processes are subject to hazard and uncertainty, and that without Hazard there could be no possibility of creativity.
However, any attempt to understand these principles using the intellect alone is doomed to failure. Only three-centered work – involving the mental, physical and emotional aspects of human nature – can be effective; all else is illusory or out of balance. Bennett was concerned to bring these ideas from the theoretical to the practical realm. As a system they are of little value unless people work with them, while the strengthening of conscience requires purposeful struggle and sacrifice. It was with this principle in mind that Bennett began his training school in 1971, aimed at giving his students the tools and methods necessary to develop both conscience and the ability to act on it.